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Mirror, Mirror MAG
It was after her worst temper tantrum that Chelsea's parents finally decided to take the trip they had been planning for so long. Chelsea's latest demand was that they take her across the Atlantic, to England, for a vacation. And this was exactly the kind of excursion Mr. and Mrs. Parks decided they would afford their girl.
Presently, all three members of the Parks family were in first class on the plane, and Chelsea was pouting again, this time because her parents had arranged to stay in the English countryside before going to London. The city was the only place Chelsea had any interest in seeing. The only reason she wasn't throwing another full-fledged tantrum was because they had also mentioned staying in a grand old mansion.
Their rented Rolls-Royce drove up to a house that hardly seemed a mansion to Chelsea. It was old, yes, but with only two stories and certainly not grand. Ivy climbed the exterior, which was streaked with brown water stains.
“What is this place?” Chelsea asked indignantly, climbing out of the car.
“Sweetie, it's not bad,” said her mother over her shoulder. Hesitantly, Chelsea followed, into a dark hallway.
“Where's the light switch?” she asked, casting her gaze about in the semi-darkness.
“There's only electricity in some parts of the house,” replied Mr. Parks.
“It's just for a few days, angel,” said her mother from another room. Chelsea followed her voice, stepping into what was once a living room, with a grimy old fireplace and two chairs pushed up against the far wall. The golden wallpaper was peeling in long strips.
“Where is my bedroom?” she asked, glaring up the spiral staircase.
“Up here, dear,” called Mrs. Parks. Chelsea stomped up to the second story. It was composed of only three rooms: two bedrooms and a small adjoining bath. Mrs. Parks was in the smaller bedroom, dragging Chelsea's large pink suitcase across the dusty floor to the clawed feet of a chest of drawers. Then she went over and sat on the bed, patting the space next to her. Chelsea stood with her hands on her hips, her reflection visible in the large, spider cracked bathroom mirror.
“This is my room?” she asked, incredulous.
“Sweetie, I understand this isn't exactly the vacation you planned,” began Mrs. Parks.
“But your father and I want this to be fun for you.”
“Fun?” yelled Chelsea. “How is this going to be fun? There's no electricity – or cell phone service – here.” She had yanked her phone out and was brandishing it at her mother.
“Why is my room even on the second floor?” she demanded.
“This is the only bathroom with plumbing,” stated Mrs. Parks meekly.
“Take me home!”
“I can't stand it here one more second!”
Mrs. Parks retreated from the room at a run.
Chelsea stormed to the door, about to slam it. It was only then that she noticed there were no doors on this floor.
“Mother!” she screamed. There was no answer.
For the rest of the night, Chelsea stayed in her room, not even coming down when her father called her for dinner. He brought it up to her 30 minutes later.
Chelsea ate in bed. A few minutes later she heard her parents coming up the stairs. She lay curled up on her side, facing away from the bathroom, as she listened to her parents talking quietly. Her father laughed at something her mother said and hurriedly shushed her.
A few minutes later, Chelsea fell asleep, her anger exhausted. It was the dead of night when she awoke, as suddenly and completely as if someone had screamed. She sat up quickly, pulling the covers to her chin, an unrecognized terror washing over her.
“It's just the house,” she murmured to herself, “that's all that's scaring you.” But she knew it wasn't true.
She remembered the small light in the bathroom and glanced desperately. She was inexplicably terrified to get out of bed. She thought of calling out to her parents, opened her mouth to yell, and then stopped.
She lay curled up, eyes closed, too frightened to fall back asleep. Every creak of the house made her jump, kindling worse fears. The silence was deafening. Not until morning was she finally able to fall into an uneasy sleep.
The next thing she knew, her father was shaking her awake.
“It's 9 o'clock,” he said. “Wake up.”
Chelsea sat up, bleary-eyed. At first she didn't know where she was, and then the memories of the night hit her full force. “Dad, I was so scared last night!” she said, her words coming out in a rush. “I woke up all of a sudden and it was so dark. I was terrified.” She turned to him pleading. “I'm not staying here another night.”
Mr. Parks stepped back, out of reach of her grasping hands and looked at her strangely. “If it will make you less scared I'll give you the flashlight from my briefcase.”
Chelsea nodded and gulped, holding back the words. It wasn't as though she was just frightened last night. She had an absolute, horrified certainty that something was wrong, something more than the dark.
The second night she fell asleep surprisingly easily, her father's flashlight almost comforting in her hand. Again, in the dead of night, she awoke with terror, her muscles going rigid beneath the sheets. Her hands groped the covers for a minute of paralyzed silence before her fingers grasped the cold metal of the flashlight.
“Come on, come on,” she said between clenched teeth. She flipped the switch and …
Nothing. The dark was fully around her. A gasp of disbelief escaped her lips, her trembling fingers worked at the top of the light, trying to twist it off. Into her waiting hands fell the batteries and she shoved them back in, jamming on the top. Still darkness.
Trying not to cry, she tried again, sliding the batteries out, turning them around, and pushing them back in. There was not even a flicker.
“Chelsea, two days in a row?” a deep voice above her was asking. Chelsea forced her eyes open, taking in her father's face and then her mother's.
She started, disoriented. “The flashlight! It didn't work!”
With a confused expression, Mr. Parks picked it up and turned it on. Even in the morning light, Chelsea could see the beam on the ceiling. Her mother and father exchanged a glance.
“I swear, it wasn't working last night! I tried it and … this is all some kind of trick, isn't it?” Her eyes moved from her father's impassive face to her mother, whose eyes were too wide.
“You were probably just dreaming, dear,” said Mr. Parks dully. Something in his voice told her not to believe him.
“I know what I saw,” argued Chelsea. “And I know what I felt. It wasn't a dream.”
On the third night, Chelsea again fell asleep quickly, but this time she had decided that she would turn on the light when she woke up. It seemed so simple, so trivial.
It was midnight. She awoke, the unexplained terror coursing through her. I have to do it, she told herself. It had been so easy to say that earlier, when the memory of her fear was dulled to insignificance by the day. She shivered and tried to focus against the panic rising like a tide within her.
Gingerly, she inched to the edge of the bed and, steeling herself, eased a foot onto the cold floor. She stood slowly, quaking, and raced the three steps to the bathroom as though running from a burning building. She grasped the edges of the sink with white-knuckled hands as she fumbled with the tiny light switch.
It flicked on, painting a sudden golden glow on the walls. Relief rushed over Chelsea. Everything would be all right now. Slowly she straightened up and looked sideways into the mirror. And froze.
The reflection that stared back at her was not her own. It was gruesomely ugly, pale, and tinged gray, twisted into a mask of horror superimposed over her own frozen features.
She screamed, staggering backwards, pressing herself against the wall of her bedroom. Her mind was empty and her only thought was that she knew it was not only the darkness she was afraid of.
It felt like hours she stood there, frozen, unable to move. It might have been an eternity. Finally, she crawled back to bed, burying herself in the covers.
But she could not resist a peek. She looked back over her shoulder. A girl stood in front of the mirror facing the bed in which Chelsea lay. The girl was illuminated from the side, and her face was mostly in shadow. Even so, Chelsea could see it was twisted into the shape of that gruesome image in the mirror.
She was looking at herself.